Billions Promised for Toronto Transit

May 11, 2021, brought a shower of money, or at least promises of money, onto plans for rapid transit in Toronto. The federal government announced a total of $10.7 billion to fund a 40 per cent share in the Ontario, Scarborough, Yonge North and Eglinton West projects.

May 12 brought another, albeit smaller, promise of $180 million each from the federal and provincial governments to fund expansion of the streetcar fleet on which Toronto already planned to spend $208 million.

On May 13, a funding announcement for the Hamilton LRT line is expected. This is a project the province had tried to kill.

Combined with their recently announced national transit funding program, the federal Liberals are making a real splash in the transit pond, at least for big-ticket capital projects.

Before we all head out for a socially distanced beer or champagne celebration, there are important caveats.

Why 40 Per Cent Isn’t Necessarily 40 Per Cent

When the federal government agrees to fund a project, the dollar value is (or more accurately will be) “as spent” dollars without any provision for inflation. If Queen’s Park says that the Ontario Line is going to cost $10.9 billion, that’s what the 40 per cent is calculated on. Add-ons or inflation will be entirely on Ontario’s dime, unless a future federal government takes pity.

The last time a subway project ran out of money due to a hard cap on the “commitment” was with the Sheppard Subway’s terminus at Don Mills. Ironically, it was a conservative provincial Premier, Mike Harris, who capped spending on that project, and Toronto did not have enough money to continue east to Victoria Park, much less beyond to Scarborough Town Centre.

Cost overruns on the Vaughan subway extension were shared by Toronto and York Region.

The announced costs for the four Ontario key projects in Toronto are:

  • Ontario Line: $10.9 billion
  • Yonge North: $5.6 billion
  • Scarborough: $5.5 billion
  • Eglinton West: $4.7 billion
  • Total: $26.8 billion

“The federal government is contributing 40% of each project, up to a total of $10.4 billion” according to Infrastructure Canada’s announcement. This could give leeway for allocations to move between projects, but sets a total on the group.

This puts all four projects in a box, and will make adding costs to them very difficult because there will be no matching federal dollars. The dubious nature of the spending, notably on the Eglinton West underground alignment, appears to be of little concern to the feds who do not want to be seen as interfering in local decisions.

That stance takes an odd turn when we see that there are conditions on this support, although I suspect that many are window dressing.

The federal government understands that every taxpayer dollar invested in public transit must have multiple benefits including creating good jobs, building more equitable and inclusive communities, and tackling climate change. That is why the federal government’s funding is dependent on satisfying conditions including demonstrating how the investments will drive down emissions and build resilience, substantive environmental reviews, ensuring affordable housing along the line, incorporating accessibility, mitigating local concerns, maximizing benefits for communities including through Community Benefit Agreements, and meeting employment thresholds for underrepresented communities including Black, Indigenous and people of colour, and women.

Just what is meant by “substantive environmental reviews” and “mitigating local concerns” is anyone’s guess especially in light of Canada’s rejection [22 MB PDF] of a requested environmental review of the Ontario Line. In brief, the feds hold that there are provincial and municipal processes in place to address concerns, and moreover that there are few areas of federal jurisdiction touched by the Ontario Line.

Metrolinx projects already provide accessibility and include Community Benefit Agreements. These “requirements” simply reinforce what they are already doing.

The Ontario Line is under fire in at least two locations, Riverside and Thorncliffe Park, because of intrusions on the community. In Riverside, the debate is over underground vs at grade construction, as well as the proposed alignment, and Metrolinx’ possible misrepresentation of the combined GO Transit and Ontario Line corridor from the Don River to Gerrard. In Thorncliffe Park, the proposed maintenance yard requires the expropriation of a group of offices and shops that form a community centre. A Mosque is also affected, although it plans to move to another building nearby.

Changing the design in either of these areas will almost certainly raise costs, and the project cap will be used to counter any such proposals. Oddly enough, this was not an issue on Eglinton West which is going undergound at a cost of nearly $2 billion so that the good people of Etobicoke do not have to see streetcars in their neighbourhood. That decision is now baked into the project cost, and Metrolinx is on the verge of awarding the tunneling contract.

The planned alignment of the Yonge North extension under the Royal Orchard neighbourhood is also under fire, although Metrolinx claims that the line will be so deep it will have no effect on the residential community above. That is an intriguing claim given that the tunnel portal is in the GO rail corridor and the trains will not leap instantly from deep underground to the surface.

The Scarborough decision has long been a fait accompli, but the current announcement commits the feds to a 40 per cent share of the expanded project.

More Streetcars for Toronto

In 2020, the TTC proposed that the streetcar fleet be expanded by 60 cars, and the City signed on to fund 13 of these. The remaining 47 are now funded by contributions from the other governments, a move that will keep Thunder Bay happy with a vehicle order to keep the now-Alstom (formerly Bombardier) plant going. Some work will also go to the Alstom plant in La Pocatière, Québec.

The subway extensions will also need new cars, but unlike the streetcar fleet, there is no open contract to simply be extended. It will be interesting to see how additional cars for Line 1 and a new fleet for Line 2 will be tendered, and what political machinations will bear on the vendor selection.

The expanded streetcar fleet will not all fit in existing facilities at Leslie, Russell and Roncesvalles. The TTC plans to renovate Harvey shops at Hillcrest as a small carhouse serving (at least) the 512 St. Clair route. The existing streetcar maintenance facilities at Hillcrest were designed in the 1920s for standard sized streetcars and could only host a few Flexitys at a time during the early testing and acceptance period.

Now that the full order for more cars has funding, the Hillcrest renovations can proceed.

Left at the Altar

Important projects which might benefit from federal funding are still sitting in limbo including:

  • Eglinton East LRT to UTSC and Malvern
  • Waterfront East LRT to Broadview
  • Line 2 Bloor-Danforth Automatic Train Control and fleet renewal
  • New Line 2 maintenance facility west of Kipling Station (Obico yard property)

There is a separate federal program to fund transit, but that is already partly earmarked for electrification of the bus fleet and garage upgrades. How much will be left for other projects remains to be seen.

With all of this new money for Toronto transit, the TTC needs to update its Capital Plan to reflect the current status of project funding and the remaining budget shortfall. We might have billions worth of promises, and even a few celebratory bottles to drink, but there is a long way to go thanks to decades of deferred investment.

GO / UP Express Off-Peak Service Cuts Effective January 23, 2021

In response to the steep decline in demand on their rail services, Metrolinx announced substantial changes to off-peak services on January 14.

Union-Pearson Express

Service now begins at 4:55 am every day and continues until 1:00 am every half-hour. This will change:

  • On weekends, the first train will leave Union at 6:00 am.
  • The last train will leave Union at 10:00 pm every day.
  • Half-hourly service will be provided only during these periods:
    • Weekdays 5:30 to 9:00 am, and 3:00 to 8:00 pm
    • Weekends 9:00 am to 7:00 pm
  • Hourly service will operate at other times.

GO Transit

All weekend and evening train service on the Kitchener, Barrie and Stouffville corridors will be replaced by buses operating from the new Union Station bus terminal. The changeover will begin on Friday, January 22 for Stouffville trains in the evening due to planned construction on the line that weekend.

The Effect of Covid-19 on GO/UPX Ridership

In recent years, Metrolinx has been proud to show strong growth on its network, and was starting to think in terms beyond peak-period, peak-direction commuting to downtown Toronto. With the work-from-home shift in the business core, this demand has collapsed.

The map below shows the growth in ridership for the period April-December 2019 compared with the 2018 figures. The size of the dot at each station is scaled to the change in demand. (Click on the images below for larger versions.)

Covid-19 changed everything, and ridership in April-September 2020 is only a fraction of former levels.

PDF versions of these files are available here:

The decline in demand has been severe, and no corridor is carrying even 10 per cent of its former demand. This is much worse than the situation on the TTC network where demand, although down from 2019, ranges up to 50 per cent of former levels thanks to continued strong ridership by essential workers and by those for whom car travel is not an option.

At a corridor level, the best performance is on Lakeshore East at 9.4 per cent of former demand, while Richmond Hill brings up the rear at 1.5 per cent, or 87 riders per day.

At a station level, the best performance is at Oshawa at 11.6 per cent of former demand, or 418 riders per day. Some stations are below 10 per day.

A tabular version of the station-by-station values is available here:

Weekday train service to Niagara Falls was suspended earlier in GO Transit’s covid-era schedules, and the weekend service was dropped on Saturday, January 9. GO hopes to resume weekend service in spring 2021.

Longer term, the challenge for Metrolinx will be the pace of demand recovery on its network given its strong commuter orientation. The program to expand GO capacity and, eventually, to electrify parts of the network now depends on assumptions about future levels of service and demand including when or if these will be achieved.

As on the TTC, it would be easy for budget hawks to claim that big spending on transit is a waste, but this is entirely the wrong time to make such a call. We do not know what the situation will be even a year from now, let alone further out, and what course the pandemic era will follow. This is not the moment to give up on transit much as road-building advocates might prefer to kick the competition while it is down.

There is a more subtle, but important point about GO Transit’s situation. If their service and policy focus shifted away from downtown commuting to all-day, everywhere service, this could bring a truly “regional” outlook.

Governments of both the Conservative and Liberal stripe at Queen’s Park have no interest in “local” transit service beyond funding provided to municipalities via the gas tax. The tax amounts just announced are for the fiscal year 2020-21 and are already baked into local budgets, and are separate from any covid-specific relief. They are not “new money”.

Ontario suffers from a combination of limited local transit and even less intercity service thanks to the disappearance of private sector carriers. A few new services have appeared, but there is no sense of a network approach let alone provincial funding to build ridership. With the core GO Transit network at historically low ridership, an expanded role for GO buses is the last thing on anyone’s mind. The problem is compounded by a political orthodoxy that somehow the private sector will fill the gap, ideally without any public funding.

Metrolinx and Queen’s Park are happy to focus on transit megaprojects, but the benefits are confined to specific corridors, some at great cost, and are years in the future. Meanwhile, we wait and hope for transit demand to recover and restore GO Transit’s relevance.

StudentMoveTO: A Survey of GTHA Post-Secondary Student Travel

Almost every ridership study and projection, almost every major infrastructure and scheme looks at peak period, core focused commuting patterns. Huge efforts go into multi-decade plans to deal with growth, but much of these plans obsess on getting people to and from work downtown.

This leaves millions of trips unaccounted for outside of downtown and outside of traditional commuting hours. In the pandemic era, with that “normal” commuting load stripped away, we now see the importance of the local bus service – much of which does not serve downtown – where ridership remains strong. The subway may be quiet and GO Transit almost deserted, but the bus routes carry well, in some cases too well for comfort.

A major group of transit travellers is students, and in particular those at post-secondary institutions who can face much longer trips over a variety of hours than their younger colleagues in secondary and elementary schools. Many are now learning from home, but when they return to in-person classes, their effect on the transit system should be remembered.

In fall 2019, ten universities and colleges, Metrolinx, the City of Toronto and other organizations launched research into post-secondary student travel patterns. Preliminary results from this study have now been published and these are available on the StudentMoveTO website.

This survey, necessarily, reflects “before times”. It tells a lot about student travel patterns and shows how they differ from the classic transit model. This is interesting not just for students, but as an example of a group and their travel demands that are poorly understood and poorly served by core-oriented transit thinking.

Moreover, as a group who, relative to many others, are less likely to use or have access to cars, they show the problems of a so-called regional transit system that provides much less service at the edges than in the network’s core, Toronto.

The survey cast a wide net across the member institutions.

Source: StudentMoveTO 2019 Transportation Survey Findings

Collectively these institutions represent over 300,000 students and their travel. With a response rate averaging 6 per cent, there were over 18,000 responses with varying participation rates from each college and university.

An important caveat is that those who chose to participate do not necessarily represent the population as a whole, but as with any survey, one works with the data available. Cross-checks on these samples would be interesting (such as using the postal codes of all students to verify their geographic distribution), but that is work for another day.

Of the students who participated, about 40 per cent filled out a travel diary, and this gives us information about the types of trips they made.

Source: StudentMoveTO 2019 Transportation Survey Findings

It should be no surprise that trips related to education accounted for only 36 percent of total journeys. People do have other things to do with their lives, especially in the much more social pre-pandemic era.

A considerable chunk of the trip pie, 18 percent, consists of work-related trips as many students also have jobs. This might be a secondary demand pattern overall, but it is part of many students’ lives and commuting burden.

The overall location of students and the institutions they attend is shown in the map below.

Source: StudentMoveTO 2019 Transportation Survey Findings

Some people commute a very long distance to school in much the same way as many commute to work. Post-secondary institutions, however, are not clustered in a few nodes such as King & Bay Streets, but are scattered around the region.

The map above does not show campuses of other institutions that did not participate in the survey. Those located outside of the south-central part of the GTHA have commuting issues of their own.

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Metrolinx Board Meeting: November 22, 2019

The Metrolinx Board met on November 22, 2019 with its usual mixed agenda of private session and public items. This article deals with the following public reports and mainly with the Kitchener and Niagara Falls business cases.

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GO Transit Service Changes Effective September 3, 2019

After the flurry of activity about rumoured widespread cuts to GO Transit’s bus service, the changes announced for September 3 are all “good news”. Whether there is “another shoe to drop” later in the fall remains to be seen. So far, these are not the moves of an agency about to make widespread route cuts.

Bus Routes

Seasonal bus service will end on 12 Niagara Falls. Effective Labour Day weekend, weekday express service will end, and weekend express service will be cut back to every two hours. The weekend express service will end at Thanksgiving.

School trips will be restored on the following routes:

  • 15 Brantford/Burlington
  • 25 Waterloo/Mississauga
  • 29 Guelph/Mississauga
  • 45-46-47-48 Highway 407 West
  • 51-52-54 Highway 407 East
  • 88 Peterborough/Oshawa
  • 93 UOIT/Scarborough

The 60 Canada’s Wonderland route will not return, and riders are encouraged to use TTC or GO services to reach York Region Transit Route 20.

In the announcement of restored and extended service on the Stouffville corridor, there is a note:

Evening bus service will continue to help you transition back to the train.

This implies that the bus service will disappear after the transition is complete, but there is no effective date for this.

Rail Corridors

On the rail network, there are many changes with new trips and hours of service on five corridors.

Lakeshore West

  • Service at West Harbour Station in Hamilton will be doubled to four trips each way from the current two.
    • In the morning peak, two trains that now originate at Aldershot will begin at West Harbour departing at 7:09 and 7:49 am. These are added to departures at 6:09 and 6:39 am.
    • In the afternoon peak, a new train will leave Union at 4:45 pm, run express to Clarkson and then local to West Harbour arriving at 5:57 pm.
    • The 6:30 pm train from Union which now ends at Aldershot will be extended to West Harbour arriving at 7:42 pm.
    • The other two PM peak trips to West Harbour leave Union at 4:00 and 5:15 pm.
  • Two Oakville trips will be extended to Aldershot leaving Union at 3:13 and 6:15 pm.
  • The 8:32 am eastbound train from Oakville will be extended from 10 to 12 cars to add capacity.

In what must be the most over-hyped part of the entire announcement, train service to Niagara Falls will run every day all year. However, weekday service remains one train each way, and otherwise travel between the Falls and Toronto will use buses for the portion of the trip beyond Burlington GO. The weekday trains serve West Harbour Station in Hamilton.

  • The morning commuter train leaves Niagara Falls GO (VIA) Station at 5:19 am arriving at Union at 7:50 am.
  • The afternoon train leaves Union at 5:15 pm arriving at Niagara Falls at 7:47 pm.

Weekend service that is now seasonal will become permanent. Note that these trains do not serve West Harbour, but run express between St. Catharines and Burlington.

  • Trains to Niagara Falls from Union depart at 9:00 am, 4:18 pm and 8:10 pm.
  • Trains to Union from Niagara Falls depart at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, 7:20 pm and 11:00 pm.

Lakeshore East

There are small changes to the Lakeshore East schedule:

  • New eastbound trips will leave Union at 2:58 and 3:28 pm running local to Oshawa arriving there at 3:56 and 4:26 pm.
  • A new westbound trip will leave Oshawa at 4:48 pm running local to Union arriving there at 5:50 pm.
  • The train which now leaves Oshawa westbound at 1:52 pm running express to Union will now depart at 1:53 and will stop at Whitby, Ajax and Pickering, then express to Union.

Kitchener

  • The train which formerly started eastbound from Mount Pleasant at 9:00 am will now originate in Kitchener at 7:57 am.
  • The 12:53 pm train westbound from Union will now run through to Kitchener arriving at 2:47 pm.
  • The train which formerly started eastbound from Mount Pleasant at 3:52 pm will now originate in Kitchener at 2:57 pm.
  • The 6:00 pm Kitchener train will now run express to Bramalea then local to Kitchener arriving there at 7:47 pm.
  • A new 5:45 pm train from Union will make all local stops to Bramalea.
  • From 6:53 pm hourly westbound trains run at least to Mount Pleasant with some continuing to Guelph or Kitchener.
    • The 6:53 train will run to Kitchener arriving at 8:47 pm.
    • A new train at 9:53 pm will run to Kitchener arriving at 11:47 pm.
    • A new train at 10:53 pm will run to Guelph arriving at 12:22 am.
  • A new train from Kitchener at 8:57 pm will arrive at Union at 10:51 pm.

Other schedule changes will reflect actual operating conditions and will adjust departure times earlier or later. Consult the schedule for details.

Finally, some train lengths will be adjusted to 6 cars:

  • The 9:48 am westbound train from Union
  • The 11:00 am eastbound train from Mount Pleasant
  • The 2:57 pm eastbound train from Kitchener

As a result of the new schedule, eastbound trains originating at Kitchener will run at:

  • 5:20 am, 5:45, 6:10, 6:50, 7:15, 7:57 (new), 2:57 pm (new), 8:57 (new)

Westbound trains running beyond Georgetown will leave Union bound for Kitchener (except as noted) at:

  • 12:53 pm (new), 3:35, 4:50, 5:27, 6:00, 6:53, 9:53 (new), 10:53 (Guelph, new)

Stouffville

On the current schedule, train service southbound to Union ends with the 3:31 pm trip from Mount Joy Station. The last northbound trip to Lincolnville leaves Union at 7:10 pm and the last Mount Joy trip leaves at 8:00 pm.

On the new schedule, southbound train service continues to end at 3:31 pm, but it resumes at 9:31 pm for three trips (hourly to 11:31 pm). The last northbound Lincolnville train remains at 7:10 pm, but train service to Mount Joy at 8:15 pm and hourly thereafter. The 11:15 pm train runs through to Lincolnville.

While this is some improvement, it is still a far cry from frequent, bi-directional all day rail service.

Two trains will be changed to six-car consists:

  • The 12:15 pm trip northbound from Union
  • The 1:31 pm trip southbound from Mount Joy

Barrie

The schedule for this corridor will not change, but some train lengths will be modified to better match demand.

  • The weekday 7:05 pm train from Union will be extended from six to ten cars.

The following trains will only be six cars long:

  • Weekdays:
    • 7:40, 8:40, 9:40 and 10:40 pm northbound from Union
    • 8:41, 9:41 and 10:41 pm southbound from Aurora
  • Weekends:
    • 11:40 am, 2:00 pm and 6:20 pm northbound from Union
    • 3:01 and 7:21 pm southbound from Aurora
    • 4:20 pm southbound from Allandale Waterfront

The full set of current and future schedules is available on the GO Transit website.

Comfirm or Deny: Big Changes Coming to GO Bus Service

Over the past weekend, a post appeared briefly on Facebook describing proposed changes to GO Transit bus service that were presented to ATU Local 1587 members on Wednesday, July 17. Normally I would take info like this with a grain of salt based on decades of hearing various half-baked stories about TTC plans that pop up from railfan speculation and internal TTC rumours. However, this was too detailed a list and from a first-hand source, and it cannot be ignored.

Updated July 23, 2019 at 8:55 am: The following email was sent to me by ATU 1587 who represent the GO Transit Workers:

A.T.U. Local 1587 was not aware of a posting on social media of service cuts produced by Metrolinx. It was brought to our attention from you, Steve. Thank you.

Metrolinx has however, brought to the union, approx. a month ago, of service cuts in bus that affected Beaverton, Oshawa, Waterloo, Bolton, Cambridge.

Metrolinx is trying to reduce bus service, and force passengers onto trains, which means less local access for our passengers. If there is local transit, then they will have to take that system and  transfer once they are close to a GO station, if not then they will have to use their personal vehicle.

Our members provide an excellent service overall. We don’t however, create the schedules of where we go or don’t go. Our members have voiced their disbelief about the cuts to trips not only for our seniors that use our service for appointments, but our university students as well. Everyone who uses GO Transit/Metrolinx is using us for a reason. Our members are proud of what they do, helping those with disabilities, seniors, children, etc. The pride does not stop at our drivers. Everyone from plant maintenance to station attendants, to our coach tech’s (mechanics), transit safety officers, OFPT. We are all proud of the job we do for the public, our passengers.

Thank you,

Christine Broeze
President/Business Agent
A.T.U. Local 1587

Updated 4:44 pm July 22: Metrolinx claims that the information posted on Facebook is not true.

The rumours are not accurate.

Buses form a vital connection between trains and communities not connected to train service or with limited train service.

Buses will always be an important part of our regional transportation plan. In fact, we are actively recruiting bus drivers to join our team.

We currently have a fleet of 532 buses and approximately 420 are used for service. We have more buses on the road today than we ever have and every year since our existence they have increased.

We are always monitoring our services to ensure we are making the best use of our resources.

We are embarking on the largest expansion of rail service in our history.

At times, when new train service is introduced it makes sense to redeploy bus services to other communities. Trains can carry far more passengers and shorten the trip.

It is difficult for us to comment on the presentation made to union members as we were not there. [Email from Fannie Sunshine 4:35 pm, July 22]

Original post below:

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Metrolinx Board Meeting: February 7, 2019 (Updated)

Updated February 10, 2019 at 9:00 am: Notes from the Board meeting have been added at the beginning of this article.

Relief Line Business Case

When the agenda was released, the Relief Line report created quite a stir with an apparent shift in Metrolinx’ position on the staging of subway expansion projects. Where “relief” taking precedence over the Yonge north extension only referred to the southern section (Pape to Osgoode), Metrolinx now shows a shortfall in capacity if the northern section (Danforth to Sheppard) is missing from the network.

This prompted a letter from Frank Scarpitti, Mayor of Markham and Chair of the York Region Rapid Transit Corporation Board. The heart of Scarpitti’s objection is that the Metrolinx report uses a mixture of demand models and assumptions to arrive at its conclusion, and that this is out of step with previous studies and approvals.

The Relief Line Business Case Development presentation paints a flawed picture of the ridership modelling work being undertaken by Metrolinx, in conjunction with York Region and City of Toronto staff. The vague and contradictory information being used to update the public on slide 7 regarding Line 1: Ridership Demand and Network Effects has, once again, pitted two critically needed infrastructure projects against one another, namely the Relief Line against the Yonge Subway Extension. This positioning is not supported by the ridership modelling analysis and is at odds with the advice and information presented by Metrolinx at a recent meeting.

On June 25, 2015, Metrolinx released the results of the Yonge Relief Network Study to the Board. Supported by a Stakeholder Advisory Committee and a Peer Review Panel, the Board endorsed the finding that “With the Yonge North Extension, the Yonge Subway will still be under capacity.”

The Relief Line Update uses a blend of data and methodologies to make broad assumptions about future ridership. Each subsequent ridership model claims to have better information, more detail and more sophisticated analysis. Some models include independent findings and more recently, to our objection, some have been relying heavily on market driven employment and population data, contrary to the required obligation of all municipalities to follow the Provincially-mandated “Growth Plan” numbers.

The Relief Line Update being presented to the Metrolinx Board on February 7, 2019 has, according to Metrolinx staff, blended the findings of at least three different models and does not accurately represent any of the individual modelling analyses. Slide 7 suggests that, in 2041, Line 1 will be below capacity and then over capacity when the Yonge Subway Extension is added. This is completely inaccurate – current Metrolinx modelling shared as recent as January 21, 2019 demonstrates that the Yonge Subway Extension adds a relatively minor number of riders to the peak demand location and, in no case, is it the cause of Line 1 becoming over capacity.

The facts are that only 20% of the new riders on an extension of the Yonge Subway line would be headed south of Bloor. Ridership growth on Line 1 is directly related to population and employment growth in Toronto. In fact, models show that ridership on Line 1 will exceed capacity regardless of whether the Yonge Subway Extension is constructed. We believe that by promoting the shift of as little as 10% of people from peak hour travel from the Extension to the Richmond Hill GO Line, and by using fare structure and level of service incentives, that substantial relief on Line 1 can be achieved while the Yonge Subway Extension is being constructed.

Modelling also shows that the majority of riders (80%) on the Yonge Subway Extension are headed to Toronto’s uptown employment centres north of Bloor, including St. Clair, Eglinton and York Mills. Furthermore, the Yonge Subway Extension will also serve a large number of Toronto residents that work in York Region Other initiatives are underway, or should be underway, to alleviate Line 1 capacity problems. Metrolinx’s 2015 study concluded that a number of planned and funded initiatives such as Automatic Train Control, more Rocket Trains, GO Expansion, and the opening of the Line 1 extension to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre will add capacity and offload the Line 1 demand.

These are serious challenges to the professional quality of work presented by Metrolinx planners.

The June 2015 report cited here was the Yonge Relief Network Study and it contains the quotation about the subway remaining under capacity even with the Yonge North extension. However, this depends on a number of factors:

  • The model year is 2031
  • Then-current projections for population and jobs
  • Assumed diversion levels for ridership to TYSSE and GO RER, net of demand added by new projects especially the Crosstown LRT at Eglinton

The reported projected that the volume/capacity ratio would have been 96% (2031) over the peak hour meaning that the super-peak would be above the line. The claim that the subway would still have capacity is “true” only on average and with no headroom for growth. Metrolinx planners should have known better to make that statement in 2015.

Metrolinx staff pointed out:

  • They are modelling for 2041, ten years later
  • The 2016 Census shows that core area employment is growing faster than predicted
  • Modelling now includes factors for latent demand and safety considerations at stations and platforms
  • If there is no alternate relief in place by 2041, the Relief Line North will be required

Staff also reported that although the Relief Line South approved concept (Pape to Osgoode via Carlaw and Queen) has a positive Business Case, the value is only slightly above 1.0. All six of the options were close to 1 and so the distinction between them is not as strong as the simple over/under status in the report might imply. With only a small positive margin, factors such as cost control and encouragement of Transit Oriented Development along the line will be important to maintain the supposed benefit.

CEO Phil Verster argued strongly that building the Relief Line does not preclude building other projects. His concern is to build more transit and build faster. Metrolinx is looking at (unspecified) new technology and innovation from industry to speed up the process. More than one line could be built concurrently, but the critical point is to open them in a sequence that causes the desired redistribution of demand.

Verster admitted that Metrolinx has not done enough to look at the Richmond Hill GO corridor for its potential contribution to relief.

A Board member asked whether the staff have identified a “tipping point” in safety for their studies. There is not a single value, but rather a variation from one location to another depending on local demand, station geometry and passenger flows.

Unspoken through all of this was the years of delay in admitting that a problem even exists, let alone of doing something about it. GO’s ability to provide relief has been downplayed for various reasons including the need to regrade the south end of the line to make it flood-proof, the winding valley route’s limitation of travel speed, and operational conflicts with CN’s freight traffic that limit GO capacity to Richmond Hill. Meanwhile, candidate John Tory’s SmartTrack campaign claimed that his scheme would eliminate the need for a Relief Line, and TTC projections did not raise alarms about capacity and safety issues until the situation at Bloor-Yonge could not be ignored.

“Relief” will not come from any one line or project, but from the contributions of several.

Financing and deliverability studies will be reported in spring 2019 for the Relief Line South, and a preliminary business case for the Relief Line North will be available by year-end.

This entire exchange shows the problems brought on by oversimplified presentation decks for the Board. In their oral remarks, Metrolinx staff displayed a more extensive grasp of the issues and details than contained in the Powerpoint deck.

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Superlinx: A Big Solution or A Big Con? (Updated)

Updated November 7, 2018 at 1 am: Details of the Environics poll conducted for the Toronto Region Board of Trade have been added to the end of the article. The content does not change my argument here, namely that the specifics of a new agency, its potential benefits or problems, were not presented in detail. The poll only measures a response to a generic scheme for provincial control to the extent that respondents might know about it. Of particular note, the Superlinx proposal came out in fall 2017 and had little media coverage in the period preceding the poll conducted almost a year later.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade published a proposal in November 2017 for the amalgamation of all transit agencies and operations in the “Toronto Corridor”. Ostensibly, this was written as input to the updated Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan aka “The Big Move”. However, the guiding policy framework is clear in the first paragraph of “The Board’s Vision”:

The Toronto Region Board of Trade (the Board) has a vision for a modern transit authority that is best in class globally. This regional transit authority would plan and oversee a system that pays for new lines and superior service enhancements substantially through commercialized transit related assets—not new taxes. This modern transit authority would quickly deploy smart technologies and service features systemwide, thanks to its unified planning and operations platform. It would ensure public transit land is maximized to meet housing and commercial needs. It would plan and fast‐track the delivery of a super regional transit network to meet the needs of Canada’s most populous and economically active region—the Toronto‐Waterloo Corridor (the Corridor). [p. 3]

The key point here is that transit improvements, both capital and operating, would not require new taxes. This is a political holy grail, the “something for nothing” of political dreams in any portfolio. However, at no point does the Board of Trade actually run the numbers to show that this would actually work, that the money available from “commercialized transit assets” would actually pay “substantially” for the transit the Toronto region so desperately needs.

The Board speaks of the “Corridor” with an emphasis on the Toronto-Waterloo axis, but this simply restyles a region made up of what we now call the GTHA into a larger unit, and it includes substantial areas that remain rural where transportation needs and planning policy options are very different from those of the urbanized parts of southern Ontario.

At the time, I did not comment on the scheme, but with the change in government at Queen’s Park and the arrival of dogma as the central driver of policy choices, another look is in order.

On October 31, 2018, the Board of Trade published the result of a survey which claims to show overwhelming support for complete amalgamation of transit systems. Their press release is entitled “Greater Toronto and Waterloo region voters support Superlinx concept”. However, it is by no means clear that their panel is made up of actual voters, only adults. The spin begins before we even get into the substance of the release.

This was duly covered by the media, including The Star and The Globe and Mail.

The Environics poll of 1,000 adults in southern Ontario claims:

The concept of a single regional transit agency funded by the provincial government received support from 79 percent of regional respondents and 74 percent of Toronto respondents.

It is worth noting that the article on Environics’ site, identical to the Board of Trade’s press release except for the title, is not a detailed analysis of the results. It does not include the context in which questions were placed, and so it is impossible to know exactly what people thought they were “supporting”. No margin of error is cited because of the poll methodology, according to Environics. With only 1,000 responses that are further subdivided among seven municipalities, the sample for any one of them will be quite small. The sample size and demographics for each municipality are not included, nor is there any indication of transit usage patterns among the respondents, only car ownership. With the relatively low transit usage outside of Toronto, one can reasonably assume that the poll overwhelmingly reflects the opinion of people who do not use transit as their primary or only means of travel.

Among the measures polled was “satisfaction with the local transit system”, and this ranked second lowest at 59% in Toronto with York Region, at 55%, bringing up the rear. The high, at 71%, was in Peel Region. Ironically, Toronto and York also have the lowest agreement that the “commute has worsened in the past 12 months”. There is widespread support for the concept that “regional transportation systems require a significant overhaul”, but there is no sense of what this might entail. The Superlinx scheme also has strong support, but again we do not know how it was described to respondents.

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The Sixth Worst City Myth

Recent stories beginning with the Toronto Sun, and followed by other media including Global, CTV and City, latched onto a claim from a recent study that Toronto was the sixth worst city in the world for commuting. The study from UK’s Expert Market blog writer Sean Julliard combines data from several other sites and indices to formulate a commuting index for 74 cities around the world.

Toronto likes to think of itself as a “transit city” while having severe congestion problems that are regional in scope, not simply confined to the core area which is a tiny fraction of the overall territory covered by this study. That ranking intrigued, but did not surprise me, and I set out to determine just how Toronto ranked so low in a rather long list.

Links to both an Excel and PDF version of the scores and their components are available in Julliard’s article.

First off, it is vital to understand just how these scores were compiled. Here are the components:

  • Metro population: This is the regional population, not necessarily the same as the city population. No source is cited for these values, nor is there a guarantee that other factors are drawn from the same geographic scope. For example, the population given for Toronto is almost 6 million (obviously the GTA), but the price of a monthly farecard is based on the undiscounted value of a TTC Adult Metropass.
  • The following four values come from the Moovit Insights compendium of public transit facts and statistics (Toronto page):
    • Average time spent commuting: These are transit commuting times and have nothing to do with traffic congestion except as it might affect transit vehicles.
    • Average time spent waiting for a bus or a train daily: Again, this is a transit value and appears to be a compendium of all wait times on journeys, not just the initial stage of a trip.
    • Average journey distance: This is a transit journey distance. The value shown for Toronto, 10km, lines up with information from other studies. It is slightly higher than the average for the TTC itself because regional commutes are included in the total. This is a one-way value.
    • Proportion of commuters who have to make at least one change during a transit journey.
  • The following value is derived from the Numbeo Cost of Living index (Toronto page):
    • The percentage of a monthly salary represented by the cost of a monthly transit travel card. In Toronto’s case, this is a salary for Toronto proper, and an undiscounted adult Metropass.
  • The following value is derived from the INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard:
    • Average hours spent in traffic congestion over 240 days (twelve twenty-day months)

Note that most of these factors refer only to transit with only the final one having anything to do with road congestion. This did not prevent many from reporting on how the study showed Toronto with the sixth worst congestion in the world.

Julliard notes that his composite index was primarily based on two factors:

The final ranking is weighted, with cost and time spent commuting judged to be the most important factors.

He does not explain exactly how much weight each factor is given in the total score.

Toronto ranks high on the transit cost component because of our relatively expensive Metropass. Numbeo notes:

Toronto has 13th Most Expensive Monthly Pass (Regular Price) in the World (out of 444 cities).

As for congestion, Toronto sits at 49th place (with 1st being the worst), and its position is rising (bad) thanks to increased time spent by commuters in traffic.

And so we have a sixth worst ranking on Julliard’s scale because we have rotten traffic and expensive transit.

Traffic Congestion

The INRIX scores rank many North American cities, including Montréal (38th), worse off than Toronto for congestion. Los Angeles tops the list with New York (3rd) and San Francisco (5th) not far behind. On a world scale, we are better off than London (7th) and Paris (12th) among many others.

This is a very different view than presented in media reports based on Julliard’s blog.

Transit Indices

Toronto is almost at the bottom of the list for the average time spent commuting by transit at 73rd place out of 74 in Julliard’s list. This is not surprising with a very high 96 minutes spend on average claimed by Moovit. Remember that this is for a round trip, and so their value for the average one-way trip is 48 minutes. That’s a reasonable number for Toronto. It is worth noting that of the 74 cities, only 24 have values of an hour or less. Others in the 90+ list include: Portland, Miami, Istanbul, Philadelphia, Sao Paulo, Birmingham (UK), Salvador (Brazil), Rio de Janiero, Brasilia, and Bogata.

This also begs the question of the scale of transit service in various cities. It is quite likely that in the overall list, it is physically impossible to spend as much time as in Toronto on commute journeys either because the city regions are smaller, or their transit networks do not reach as far as Toronto’s.

For transit wait time, Toronto is much better off at 41st with a relatively low value of 14 minutes. We may take long journeys, but we spend less time waiting to make them.

Our journeys are comparatively long at 10km reflecting the geography of the GTA’s population and work locations, and we sit at 63rd place in the list.

As for transfers, we rank well down on the list at 69th, and that is a direct result of our transit network’s design. Most riders (73%) have to transfer at least once, and given the size of Toronto, that would be hard to avoid except with massive duplication of routes to provide many more one-seat rides. Only 17 cities in the list have a value under 50%, and they tend to be smaller than Toronto with populations averaging 1.7 million (25% of the GTA value).

Toronto is 62nd on the list for cost of a monthly travel card (a TTC Metropass) as a percentage of monthly income at 6.5%. Montreal has a value less than half of Toronto’s, and most cities in Julliard’s list fall below 5%.

Concluding Thoughts

If you want to complain that the TTC costs too much, especially its monthly pass, that’s a valid point, but it has nothing to do with traffic congestion. Travel distances and times are a direct consequence of a region that has, for the most part, built up around a road network, not around transit. Where once the “old” city with its spine of subways and frequent surface routes dominated the travel market, the city region is now overwhelmingly car-based with sprawling populations and job centres to match. This model “worked” when roads had capacity and the assumption that everyone had a car was taken as read. That is not what Toronto has become, and we now have a crisis in transportation network capacity and in the economic viability of so much travel for work and study taking so much time out of everyone’s day.

The Toronto Sun has even taken up the fight against the streetcar again lumping in the downtown know-it-alls who killed the Spadina Expressway with those who preserved the streetcar system. The fact that the vast majority of the GTHA has never seen a streetcar and manages to be hopelessly congested all the same has escaped them. Toronto being “sixth worst” is yet another reason to drag out this hobby horse.

And, of course, some of the greatest congestion lies on our “express” road network. Unlike downtown Toronto, Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York never faced the prospect of demolishing large residential areas in the name of “progress”. A plan to widen the expressways beyond lands long-ago acquired for their construction might teach folks outside of downtown just what provision of adequate road capacity would mean in their own back yards.

Julliard’s study (really a collection of data, but not a “study” in the sense of a detailed review of how the underlying numbers work and what they reveal) is a convenient jumping off point for lazy politicians (and sadly, I must say, for journalists too), but it has been used without context and with even the data it does include misrepresented. If Toronto had a cheaper transit pass, we would have ranked much better, and there would be no story, but this would have no effect on traffic congestion.

Are there problems in the GTA? Of course there are, and they start with a built form and demand pattern that are extremely difficult (impossible in places) to serve with transit. Once the roads are full, they guarantee congestion, and this will not be solved with a few subways or by getting rid of a handful of streetcar lines in Toronto’s core. The “fix” will take time, and must begin with a recognition that shifting people to transit is hard, expensive work. Simplistic, campaign-driven, vote-buying “solutions” are worthless.

Metrolinx Mulls Fare System Changes (Updated)

At the April 26, 2018 Metrolinx Board Meeting, two of the public agenda items dealt with changes in fares and in the fare collection system:

Presto Mobile is a new smartphone app that is intended to become a single point of access to Metrolinx services including fare payment and trip planning.

On the fare integration front, Metrolinx is contemplating the effects of funding announced in the 2018 provincial budget to subsidize lower fares for short GO Transit trips, and for cross-border fares between Toronto and the 905-area municipalities.

For the sake of discussion, this article assumes that the provisions in the budget will actually be implemented regardless of which party forms the government after the election in June.

Updated May 7, 2018 at 9:50 am: Metrolinx has confirmed that the double discount for GO+TTC fares would still apply to the new $3 fare within Toronto.

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